Five Proven Steps to Bring New Concepts to Market
From medical devices to outdoor gear and consumer products, no one product development process is the same
We have worked with dozens of entrepreneurs and companies over the years to bring new and novel products to life. Many products began with a simple idea, need or challenge and grew into a solution or concept to improve people’s lives or bring about an industry innovation.
From medical devices to outdoor gear and consumer products, no one product development process is the same.
However, after helping design, develop and manufacture many products for a wide range of industries, we have a created a proven formula that works, and is efficient while mitigating as many risks as possible.
In this article, we share five proven yet commonly overlooked steps for helping companies successfully deliver new concepts to market.
1. SWOT, Research and Specifications
In the initial stages of the product development process, conducting background research and doing a market analysis are critical steps in identifying a market and viability of a new concept. We often work with clients in the early stages of a project to research competitors or similar products and have discussions with end users. A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis should be performed humbly and without preconceptions, which is why we prefer to lead our clients through this exercise. In medical device manufacturing, for example, surgeons, nurses, operating room technicians, and hospital purchasing teams can all lend an enormous amount of feedback into the use and needs for the products, as do the manufacturers, assemblers on the factory floor, and service technicians charged with the ongoing maintenance of the product. This research and analysis help inform the design process, establish requirements for the product and ultimately develop a list of collaborative specifications so the design team and can begin to visualize concepts and identify how the product will solve a want and need in the marketplace.
2. Brainstorming to lead Industrial Design
In this phase, we often see a rudimentary prototype of our clients’ initial vision and identify priorities for the product, which often includes improvements to function, ease-of-use, and assembly. Although many of our clients have partisan notions of how their products will look and function, we do not. This allows us to “think outside the box” and take our research and data from the analysis and information gathering phase and apply it to initial concepts. Our initial brainstorming process is often facilitated on Miro boards to allow our team and clients to collaborate and begin with a blank slate, and concepts are ranked and distilled using tools such as a Pugh matrix. Using these tools allows us to easily receive real-time feedback on sketches from miles away. It is here, with our creative juices flowing, we begin to sketch our ideas, ask additional questions and find reference products to tear down. This process of brainstorming and concept iteration allows us to converge on a high-level system architecture and to identify high-risk elements to address during prototyping.
3. Sketch models and initial prototyping
Many design firms create sketches and prototypes, but few create “sketch models” which are fast and often crude mock-ups in three-dimensional form. These sketch models are actual, physical representations of brainstormed ideas, created to rapidly mitigate risk and answer questions that the concepts might have spawned. Our main intent in this phase is to iterate quickly to prove viability of concept ideas before proceeding to (often expensive and time-consuming) like-material prototyping. In many cases, we create scores of rudimentary CAD models and dozens of clay, cardboard, laser cut wood, LEGO, hand-moldable plastic, or 3D printed prototypes allowing us to evaluate ergonomics, assembly and mechanism function.
4. Engineering CAD and final prototyping
After learning and de-risking as much as we can in the previous phase, we transition into CAD models and complete detail engineering, integrating Design for Manufacturing (DFM) and Design for Assembly (DFA) best practices in preparation for final l prototypes. We are unique in how early we consider how the product will be manufactured and assembled. Before we begin detailed design, we identify specific manufacturers that are a best fit for the product’s cost and volume and establish a relationship with those manufacturers to understand their strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for creating prototypes. We are fortunate to have created our own prototyping facility, but there is always a time when outside help is needed. We share prototypes with clients at each iteration to gather feedback to inform a test plan for final production units. Most often, our competitors or lesser experienced clients create too few prototypes. We find any prototype invaluable no matter how refined or developed.
5. Overseeing manufacturing
During the final iterations of prototype fabrication, we complete the process of production manufacturer selection. We work with our selected manufacturer on in-depth reviews of dimensioned drawings and physical prototypes, and to specify precise manufacturing processes and assembly procedure. These design reviews often result in minor design changes to optimize our design to fit the manufacturers machining capabilities before the product is delivered to market, but the story doesn’t end here. Transitioning to manufacturing cannot be a “throw it over the wall” relationship, and even after tooling is made and first articles received, the collaborative work is still not complete. Only when high-volume quantities are being produced consistently can your guard be dropped. A good product development partner will be your eyes and ears during the first year of production, at least.
One major contributor to the success of these steps is partnering with local designers, problem solvers, and manufacturers. The close proximity of your entire product development team is a competitive advantage, and this efficiency will reduce miscommunications and save you time and money in the long run. While no one product development process is the same and not every concept conceived locally can be designed and manufactured in our backyard, being committed to working with local entrepreneurs and businesses who help grow our Colorado economy should be paramount whenever possible. This advice, and following the steps outlined above, will greatly increase a successful development venture and create a product that you will be proud to market.
Marc Hanchak is the founder of Denver-based LINK Product Development and Alice Mayfield is a mechanical engineer and team member at LINK.